Here we are once again talking about independent bottlers. What can we say? We are huge enthusiasts about the subject. As we have already seen, independent bottlers have contributed so much to the popularity and spread of single malts in a world that mainly demanded blends. Some of them have made history in their own right, changing the whisky world profoundly. But since the MyNameIsWhisky team is all Italian, we particularly wanted to talk about Italian bottlers in history.
So, if you really want to know all about who produced some of the most iconic whiskies ever, keep reading!
Previously on MNIW Blog, about Independent Bottlers
In case you missed the previous chapters on the history of independent bottlers, here is where you can find them.
A brief history of the independent bottlers’ world, their products and why you should want to try IB bottlings from your favourite distillery.
Who are the people behind the independent bottlers’ company? Here you can find an account of all the historical bottlers and their deeds.
Why Italian Independent bottlers?
As we said, MNIW is Italian. it was inevitable that we would trace the history of the world of independent bottlers in the Bel Paese. However, we’re not completely biased. Italian bottlers have indeed made an important contribution to single malt production.
If you are trying to expand your rare whisky collection, look no further. The whiskies from Italian independent bottlers from the late 1970s through to the late 1990s make up a substantial part of the world’s rarest and most sought-after single malts! They are hunted by collectors worldwide.
Not only did they bottle some superb whiskies, but their actions also changed the face of Scotch whisky forever. These bottlers had the foresight to imagine how connoisseurs might best appreciate whisky in the future. They were among the first to make un-chill-filtered whiskies available on the market, and they dared to pioneer styles and promote distilleries outside the norm.
But enough talk. Let’s get to know some of the most important independent bottlers in Italy!
All the Italian Independent bottlers that you will meet in this article
Edoardo Giaccone, also known as Baffo (moustache in Italian) laid the foundations for the many legendary independent bottlers who followed. After briefly working as a bar manager at the age of 20, he was recruited to a cruise ship and started travelling the world. It was the beginning of his love for whisky. Indeed, he wasn’t just a businessman, but also, most importantly, a whisky enthusiast. His pure passion for this distillate, led him to build up an incredible collection composed of over 30000 bottles (it even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest collection of whisky in the world. Are you ready to beat that?).
Eventually, when Giaccone passed away, Giuseppe Begnoni bought the collection, thus becoming the proud owner of one of the world’s largest whisky collections.
But what does Giaccone have to do with independent bottlers?
Giaccone’s pioneering project
Although he wasn’t an independent bottler in the contemporary sense, he was a trendsetter, as we would call him today. Indeed, he understood the beauty of Single Malts during a time when they weren’t that popular. But he had a mission: share this passion with the world. Thus, he became one of the first people outside Scotland to have their own bespoke official bottlings.
Indeed, Giaccone frequently visited Scotland, visiting all of its distilleries to develop his knowledge and find the best bottles and casks. His knowledge was so vast that at one point he began to collaborate with Gordon & MacPhail.
Have you ever heard about Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range? Well, a dozen bottlings were made for Giaccone. These include bottlings for many of Gordon & MacPhail’s flagship distilleries, such as Mortlach, Linkwood, Strathisla and Talisker. Moreover, they weren’t “ordinary” bottlings at all. On the contrary, usually, the whiskies made for Giaccone were particularly high ages, ranging from 21 years for a Talisker 1951 to 39 years for an Avonside 1938.
Giaccone and Gordon & MacPhail’s relationship continued with other Italian bottlers. And they indeed created great things together! Today many of his bottlings have become legends. They are more often than not expensive and hard to acquire. One thing is certain. Whether you want to collect them or drink them, you will not regret your purchase in either case.
Here are some of Giaccone’s amazon whisky bottlings!
Samaroli was one of the first Italian independent bottlers, founded in 1968 by Silvano Samaroli. The name Samaroli has become synonymous to whisky enthusiasts with rarity, legend and immense beauty. Moreover, the company was one of the first dedicated bottlers to actively promote cask-strength whisky.
Samaroli was a wine merchant who became interested in the world of single malt whisky and began selling Scotch whiskies under his own label. Indeed, Samaroli was at first an importer of whisky rather than an independent bottler. For the first ten years, Samaroli focused on importing Scotch whisky into the Italian market with no view to bottling his own.
This was until 1979 when Samaroli bottled his first series. This was a series of Cadenhead dumpy bottles that he had imported for the Italian market. As Mario Rossi was the official distributor for Cadenhead in Italy, Samaroli was required to relabel the bottles. This resulted in the first Samaroli label: a series of watercolour images. The success of this release changed the direction of Samaroli Srl.
Soon, the series was followed by the ‘Flowers’ releases in 1981. Originally, the series was known as “The Never Bottled Top Quality Whisky Series” (We’d say the name speaks for itself!). Later on, it became known simply as the Flowers series due to the decorative label.
To create this edition, Samaroli personally selected very rare single malts such as Coleburn, Millburn…and the most famous of all, a 1966 Bowmore!. This selection of casks, in time, marked Samaroli as a visionary.
Why Samaroli’s bottles are so special?
It was precisely during the 1980s that Samaroli released dozens of bottlings which are now considered legends (you better bit if you find one of those at a whisky auction!). But they are not only delicious. Samaroli’s bottles are real pieces of art. After all, what else could one expect from an Italian? The artistry of the labels influenced the over the years the whisky industry, and numerous bottlers took inspiration from Samaroli’s elegant and artistic style.
During the same period, Samaroli began to source more individual releases directly from Cadenhead and bottlings at cask strength began to appear. Samaroli became a pioneer of the cask strength release and, by the late 1980s, nearly all of the Samaroli bottlings were cask strength.
Another famous release from Samaroli was the Glen Cawdor bottling. Glen Cawdor was most commonly used to disguise Springbank whisky due to licensing laws. If you wonder where the name comes from, it’s from a Shakespeare play Castle Cawdor in Macbeth. One of the most famous Glen Cawdor bottlings is the 1964 Springbank, bottled in 1983.
In the 1990s, Samaroli sourced its stocks from a more diverse range of sources and bottlings began to slow a little around the early 2000s as demand for aged stocks of whisky began to increase. In 2008 the company was taken over by Antonio Bleve, although Samaroli maintained an active role in the business until his death in February 2017.
As we already mentioned, Samaroli bottlings have become incredibly sought after on the secondary market. Just to give you a general idea, the incredible Bowmore 1966 Boquet was sold at £72,600 at Sotheby’s in 2019.
So if you spot any Samaroli bottles, don’t let them get away!
Moon Import is an Italian Independent bottling company founded by Pepi Mongiardino in 1980. The label enjoys a legendary reputation as one of Italy’s finest independent bottlers. Indeed, the whiskies selected by Moon Import are the result of careful research aimed at achieving absolute excellence. Precisely for this reason, among the bottles in the portfolio, we can find whiskies from small distilleries that prove to be great surprises!
Today, their portfolio consists of all sorts of beverages from wines and a great variety of spirits to liquors and even coffee beans.
A common theme running through their releases is that they have all been bottled at either 45% or 46%. Moon Import is also famous for its superb single casks bottled in the 1980s and 90s from the series The Birds, The Costumes & The Sails in the Wind.
Intrade is an Italian independent bottler and distillery that specializes in producing high-quality, small-batch whiskies.This company, as well as Samaroli, helped establish a trend for cask-strength whiskies. They selected stock from Gordon & MacPhail which, once bottled, was shipped to Italy and distributed by the company.
The company was founded in 1970 by Ferdinando (Nadi) Fiori. At that time, single malts were still relatively niche and low-key. Nevertheless, by the 1980s, Italy had become a thriving single malt market, as Intertrade was just one of several bottlers that exploited the country’s interest in single malt.
The whiskies selected by Intrade were considered (and still are!) to be of exceptional quality, with many rare non-chill-filtered examples. Here’s a small selection of some of the most notable and iconic whiskies from Intrade.
Ernesto Mainardi, the founder of Sestante, began his career in the 1970s working for Macallan’s Italian importer Co. Import. When the business owner died, he took over distribution for Gordon & MacPhail, having met the director Georges Urquhart during a long trip to Scotland in 1975-1976. This was his chance to access many exclusive bottlings! Moreover, Mainardi also started importing whiskies bottled by George Strachan (Rosebank, Glen Glen Grant, Tamdhu), and occasionally imported malts directly from distilleries themselves.
In 1977, Mainardi opened a bar in Parma, which he named “Il Sestante”.A few years after, Mainardi began releasing independent bottlings under the same name. It was the beginning of a new era!
Sestante is renowned for releasing two versions of its whiskies, one at cask strength and the other at 40% ABV, both bottled from the same cask. Islay holds a prominent position among Sestante selections, with many often high-quality bottlings coming from the island, including Bowmore, as well as the Ardbeg, various Caol Ila and Laphroaig bottlings and finally a handful of rare Port Ellen.
In the 1990s, Sestante further made a name for itself when it began bottling whiskies for individual bars in Italy. All the locations were quite exclusive: Antica Casa Marchesi Spinola in Canelli, the enoteca Carato in Brescia, Bar Metro in Milan and the American bar Nidaba in Montebelluna.
In the early 2000s, Mainardi changed the name of Sestante in Silver Seal, the spiritual successor of Sestante. But we will talk more about it later in this article.
For now, we’ll present some great bottlings from this label.
As we already mentioned just above, Mainardi founded Silver Seal in partnership with Douglas Laing. This independent bottling company is somewhat different to most others as they put a lot of emphasis on an exclusive and personalised approach to retailing their whisky. Operating under the ‘Sestante’ label until 2000, the company was bought by Massimo (Max) Righi in 2010.
Silver Seal releases are exclusive. Indeed, with the support of the Sestante catalogue, the company has an impressive portfolio of aged and rare whiskies coming from some of the most beloved Scottish distilleries (such as Macallan, Ardbeg, Brora and Port Ellen).
Over the past years, Massimo RIghi has taken the Silver Seal brand to the world’s best whisky bars, with a particularly strong presence in Asia, collaborating with Japan’s Ichiro Akuto to bring out a Silver Seal Chichibu edition.
Indeed, the company is a worthy successor of Sestante! Here’s a small selection of some bottles that got us in awe.
Wilson & Morgan
Since 1992, Wilson & Morgan has offered a fine selection of rare Scotch malt whiskies to connoisseurs from all over the world. The story of this company is inseparably linked to the history of the Venetian family of the Rossi. In the 1920s, the wine and oil merchant Giuseppe Rossi, grandfather of today’s chairman of Wilson & Morgan, Fabio Rossi, moved from Venice to the mainland and settled in Treviso.
After the Second World War, Giuseppe’s son, Mario Rossi, took over the family business and expanded it. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that Mario decided to import blended whisky. In the 1980s, Mario Rossi and his sons Fabio and Walter began to introduce the “King of Whiskies” to their portfolio: a selection of single malts, independently bottled.
Today, Wilson & Morgan buy their casks ready-filled by the distilleries and then mature them further, sometimes transferring them to a different cask to experiment with new original flavours. This company has a fantastic team that has an incredible ability to select only the best casks of single malt for bottling. What a great superpower to have, isn’t it!?
They taste thousands of different casks at distilleries all across Scotland before deciding on the ones that are right for their range (lucky them!). The result of this work is an incredible bottle portfolio. Indeed, Wilson & Morgan Single Malt are premium whisky: a single sip of their expression and you’ll remember the experience for a lifetime!
Now, let’s take a look at some of their incredible bottles.
We examined some of the independent Italian bottlers who have managed to create iconic bottles. Now, if you happen to find any of these bottles on some shop shelf, you know you are looking at excellence. And more importantly, if you see one of these bottles at an auction you are sure to get a collector’s item if you manage to win it.
Luckily for you, we have prepared a guide with tips, techniques and strategies to increase your chances of winning a bottle at the auction! And yes, it’s completely free! You can find it here. Download the Guide and secure your win at the next whisky auction!
What’s your favourite Italian independent bottler? Share this article in your Instagram story, tag @mynameiswhisky_official and let us know!